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Japanese 102 – My second semester of Japanese June 14, 2011

Posted by coolmikeol in Japan.
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I should of wrote this post nearly a month ago, but various things have been happening as of late. Anyways, just like my first semester of Japanese I took in Fall 2010 semester, I’m writing about my experiences of my second semester of Japanese language study, JAPN 102 at SFSU. My experience of my first semester of Japanese can be found in my previous post called Japanese 101.

During my five week winter break in December 2010/January 2011, I didn’t do much in terms of looking over my Japanese studies from my first semester. That definitely did not help me when I returned back to school late January when I walked back into my Japanese 102 class. I felt a bit lost because of the lack of exposure of Japanese I gave myself during my break, it’s really my fault for being lazy in self studying Japanese during my break. I even started to forget some hiragana/katakana/basic kanji which really irritated me. Lesson learned, I need to keep studying/exposing myself to Japanese if I want to at least retain my minimal level of Japanese.

This semester I had two Japanese senseis like last semesters, though they weren’t the same senseis as I had last semesters. We had one main sensei and a teachers aid sensei who taught English back in Japanese schools in Japan. Both senseis English was at times a bit hard to understand due to their heavy Japanese accents, but still understandable. The teachers aid sensei taught the class on Mondays and Wednesdays and the main sensei taught on the Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Since the teacher’s aid sensei was new to teaching Japanese to English speakers than the other way around, he kept on reminding us about how teaching us is an exciting thing for him because it was a new experience. He also kept on encouraging us to “practice, practice, practice” because constant usage of Japanese will help us learn Japanese better. While this doesn’t sound like a bad thing, he constantly did this on a regular basis, and so once this became obvious (which it did fairly fast) it became somewhat annoying. My main sensei was ok, but sometimes her heavy accent would be hard to understand. That’s pretty much all there was to my senseis, but the next paragraph will explain more about the class itself.

What I want to talk about now is how well they did in terms of helping me learn more Japanese, and compare it to my First Semester Japanese class. First off, my second semester Japanese class was not structured as well as my first semester Japanese class. My first semester Japanese class basically covered everything in the chapter, and each new topic was explained in a simple way. My second semester Japanese was not as straightforward, the class really just sort of jumped into each chapter, but randomly jumped around the subjects within the chapter. The subjects themselves were not explained very well, we had more like discussions about the subject rather than explaining the subject from the ground up. I’m not saying there was no structure to the class, it’s just that it wasn’t “to the point” teaching like I experienced the semester before. I’m guessing the main reason why my second semester Japanese class was like that was because of the amount of material we had to cover, and also that my sensei never had to teach at such a rapid pace before with a book she never used to teach before either. Both with the rapid pace of the class plus shaky structure of the teaching made it hard for me to keep up like I did in my first semester of Japanese class.

My classmates were a very different bunch than from my first semester Japanese class. I did have some people I knew return from my first semester Japanese class, but majority of the people were new from various other places, at least having a first semester Japanese equivalent behind them. The class as a whole felt more like a community than a class, but not as a single community. There were groups of people who basically got along with each other, though there were a few that were alone, I was one of them. I didn’t mind being alone, I’m used to it, but it made it hard when it was time to form groups because everyone already had someone to pair up with. I always hated pair/group situations in my second semester Japanese class, because since I was always behind on my Japanese, I felt like a dummy when everyone else in the group knew what was going on, and I had to learn quickly from listening/watching them. I knew that the purpose of making pairs/groups was to help us in conversing in Japanese, and it did help so I’m not saying it was completely useless, its just that me not knowing exactly what to say plus my shy nature made it hard for me to function in a group when I didn’t know what to do. One more thing, one of my classmates in the class is what I would describe as a weeaboo. (A weeaboo is “Someone who is obsessed with Japan/Japanese Culture/Anime, etc. and attempts to act as if they were Japanese, even though they’re far from it.” – from Urbandictionary.com Now I usually would not be so critical of any person, but she took the cake in being an annoying person in class. Every morning she would walk in yelling out “Ohayo gozaimasu!” in a loud high pitched voice, and would randomly start speaking Japanese loudly all over the place (and let me let you know she is not Japanese). She would talk about games, anime, and manga to nearby people and I notice that sometimes the people who she was talking to did not care too much about it, which is understandable. Not everyone in a Japanese language class would be interested in Japanese pop culture (but still that’s probably rare). While she was annoying, I do admit that her Japanese was pretty good and that she did her best in making the class happy (I guess). As she was an “A” student in the class, it was strange when she was absent one day. You know in those animes where that  annoying person is gone all of a sudden, and then you realize how much you’ve become used to it? Yeah, it was like that. It wasn’t that I wanted her in the class, its just those kind of things that you’ve become so used to that it becomes strange when its not around. Anyways those days were rare.

Another thing that I remember doing a lot in my second semester Japanese class was “question dodging”, you know, when the teacher picks on random people and students don’t want to answer so they try to hide or look away. I remember a scene from Negima that visualizes just that.

Since I didn’t always know what to say if I got picked, I tended to duck behind people who were sitting in front of me, or at least not make eye contact with sensei. It worked most of the time, but those times when I got called and was called off guard really made me feel uneasy. Oh well, I still got through it none the less.

Food from my final day of class before finals week.

Despite the bad times in class there was some good, like the times when sensei showed us videos on YouTube of various Japanese things, usually cultural or something to help us in our Japanese studies. There was times when the teacher’s aid aid sensei was funny because he mixed up some words or because he kept on tripping on the same chair. The final two days of normal class was the best day, because we were doing skits on the final two days of normal classes before finals week and both senseis and some other students brought food on the final day of normal class to celebrate a semester ending. Sensei even brought some traditional Japanese weapon, not really dangerous, for us to play around with. It was all fun, I even got video of that day, but I’m probably not going to put it on the web.

Fun time in Second Semester Japanese class. I love the expression of my teacher's aid sensei (in black coat).

On Friday May 20th, it was our final exam which was composed of everything we had learned during the whole semester. For the most part I think I did ok, as most of the exam was fill in the blank. There were parts where we had to write sentences and translate English/Japanese to the other language. Reading comprehension, dictation, and kanji also. I know I failed the Kanji part though. I don’t know my actual grade on my final exam, but I got a B- as my overall grade for the class. I’m satisfied with that when considering all the problems I had with the class. After I turned in my final exam to sensei, I bowed to both of them in respect and left the room for the last time. I saw a group of the other finished classmates of the class and went over to talk about the final exam. Some of them were moving on to take third semester Japanese, some were not like me. I am choosing to not continue my academic study of Japanese because I need to focus more on my major of Biology, but it’s not like I won’t keep learned Japanese, I’ll just have to self study to keep myself at the level of Japanese that I know, hopefully I’ll make progress. If I feel confidant enough, maybe one day I’ll try out the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) to see if I can get certified as a non-native speaker of Japanese, though maybe the best I can get is Level 4 out of 5 levels, 5 being basic with 1 being the most difficult.

As I walked away it dawned that I was leaving my academic Japanese studies behind, meaning that I was moving into a new time where my own determination in studying Japanese will be the sole holder of my knowledge of the Japanese I know now, and if I don’t do anything then I’ll start forgetting and it will put all my time in school studying Japanese to waste. I assure you I will hold on to my Japanese knowledge and will try to expand it. I feel that with my Japanese language knowledge, I’m opening up a world that I can understand rather than learning it through others. I know I still have a long way to go in terms of learning Japanese, but at least I put my foot in the door, giving me a chance to continue moving forward into the future, doing what I want to do, whatever that may be.

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Japanese 101 – A college semester of Japanese December 18, 2010

Posted by coolmikeol in Japan.
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Sensei’s final class doing review for upcoming final exams.

Wow how time flies, I remember when I did the post about my first week of Japanese class. I did mention in that post that I was going to make continuous posts about my progress in my Japanese class, but I got lazy and also had other classes to focus on. Well anyways, this post is to summarize my experiences of my JAPN 101-01 First Semester Japanese class.

My semester started in late August with me taking this class and three other classes, one of them being Japanese immigration in the US  history class. I had no prior knowledge of the Japanese language, besides the several phrases and words you hear constantly from anime watching, and so I felt, while this was going to be a great experience learning Japanese, I also knew that it would be a challenge as well. Back in high school it was required for me to take at least two years of a foreign language, the language being Spanish. I choose Spanish because I didn’t have interest in any of the other languages at the time, them being Chinese, French, and Japanese. Why I didn’t choose Japanese? Well I was not into the Japanese culture like I was today, I was just your average American watching whatever was on TV, like Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. I had a hard time learning Spanish and had pretty bad grades in the class because I didn’t have any interest in the language. I remember telling myself that I was never going to take a language course again. That was before I got interested in Japanese Pop Culture, before I got into it so much to make myself do something I never imagined I would do, learning Japanese, and even right before I choose to take the class I was hesitating to take it because it felt I was doing it on impulse. I convinced myself to do this for two reasons, one was for the units for school, and two was to see how dedicated I was to Japan and my interest in it. I knew for a fact that if I was motivated and interested enough in any subject, I could do well in it. All throughout my semester, my word held well as I maintained high grades in hopes of it someday bringing me closer to the land of the rising sun.

The class itself was organized very well, meeting once every weekday for an hour in the morning. We had a schedule of what we were doing for each day, homework due, and when tests and exams were. A few times however I overlooked obvious things on my class schedule and on those occasions caught me off-guard for turning in homework and a couple of mini exams. The book we used is Genki 1: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese 1 along with its red workbook. The class was focused on basic Japanese grammar usage, along with learning the Japanese alphabet (Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji), to be able to read, write, speak, and understand basic Japanese.

Hiragana and Katakana are part of the basic knowledge of the Japanese language. Memorize these are you will be able to read Japanese, though you need Japanese grammar and vocabulary to understand it.

During the first couple of months, we got into learning and remembering Hiragana and Katakana right away. I had no problems with learning Hiragana. Hiragana is the basis alphabet for Japanese, so you can write solely in Hiragana and be understood, but usually Katakana and Kanji are mixed in writing. Katakana is essentially the same like Hiragana, but most of the characters are different from the Hiragana ones except for a few. Katakana is used in a few ways, such as for foreign words and names, and for emphasis to gain attention such as advertisements. Kanji is slightly different, and for me, much more difficult. Kanji are borrowed Chinese characters that each have multiple meanings, appearance, readings, and usage. What makes them difficult for me to learn is how each is individually unique, so it makes it hard for me to memorize individual Kanji. Many single Kanji have multiple meanings and thus different readings and usage, and so it’s hard to memorize the different combinations of hundreds of Kanji. I know that some Japanese have trouble with Kanji as well, so I’m not too worried about lacking in the Kanji department. I guess what made it truly hard was that I only had a few months to digest all of it into my head.

The grammar stuff overall is not too hard to learn. I’m not going to mention everything I learned because there is so much. If you ever take a look or get a copy of the textbook I used, I studied lessons 1-8 of the grammar. At the very least I can make simple sentences in Japanese such as 私わはたちです。(I’m 20 years old), 私のともだちわうたうのがじょずです。(My friend is good at singing.), and おてあらいわどこですか。(Where is the restroom?). The style of sentence structure of Japanese seems to be the same through all the different grammar rules I’ve learned. The subject of the sentence is first, followed by time, adjectives, etc., then ended with the verb. In short the subject is always mentioned at the beginning of the sentence and the main verb of the sentence is at the end. Once you have that down, the structure in the middle of the sentence is fairly loose and free moving so it’s not too restricting. Another important thing in Japanese grammar is the particles such as わ,に,を, etc. Particles are used to separate the different parts of the sentence. Japanese sentences do not have spaces, so particles play that role partly. An example, the particle わ(wa) comes directly after the subject of the sentence to indicate what is behind it is the subject of the sentence. (Ex: Watashi wa amerikajin desu. (I’m an American.) “Watashi”, meaning I, is the subject of the sentence indicated by the following particle “wa”.) There are many kinds of particles used in Japanese and they are very important in its grammar structure. I just wanted to give some background on what Japanese I learned, this is just a tidbit of my whole semester’s worth of studying.

This is what my Japanese studies look like.

The class itself was a fun experience. I remember the first day of class, my two senseis were talking to each other in Japanese while I took my seat where I would be sitting everyday. Since we were starting from the bottom up in the Japanese language, we started with greetings and basic phrases and such, most of which I already knew from my hours of anime watching which made me happy. Throughout the semester we would do a lot of speaking practice by speaking in pairs, usually with the person who sits next to you. My partner wasn’t too great with Japanese as she would constantly forget some of the stuff we did in class, but I helped her out a bit and also it made me feel better about myself because I knew it better than her. I know that’s kinda mean, but you know how when others don’t know something but you do, you feel better about yourself? Do you know what I’m talking about? I hope so. Moving on, one of my senseis was a starting new teacher, and so there was some days where evaluators came and watched her days when she was teaching the class, and some days where she brought in a video camera to record herself teach the class so she can watch it and learn what she can do better. At her day being in the class, I felt sad but also glad that she was my teacher because she helped me out and also because she tried her best to make the class fun. I wish her good luck in the future for her teaching career.

All of what I learned in my semester came down to my final exams. It was yesterday at 8 in the morning and for about two hours poured my semester’s knowledge worth of Japanese into it. I got to say it was real tough, not like my previous 7 lesson tests. I know I didn’t do so well on my Japanese final, mainly because I didn’t have too much time to study beforehand due to all my other finals and papers pecking at me to be done. I believe I got at the very least a B on my final, but accounting for all the mistakes I realized I did after the fact, it could be worse. My final grade I got for my Japanese 101-01 class is a B, which is good and also predictable when I think about my performance in the class as a whole.

I think my decision in taking Japanese 101-01 was a great decision for me, as it sort of shows myself that as long as I’m willing and passionate enough to work hard, I can achieve and find my future, which is the story of my life right now. I’ve always felt lost in a thick fog, not knowing where I should go. Certain radical events have happened in my life this year, and so finding a future for myself is very crucial. It seems that I’m slowly finding my way through the fog, finally above it, but still need to fight the obstacles above it to reach the stars and my future. As a college student who is free to make my own decisions but under the influence of the current global economy, I’m still finding ways to enjoy life and pursue what I want to do, what ever that may be.

P.S. – I have a couple of review sheets, Hiragana, Katakana, and some Kanji practice sheets as PDF files. Here are the links to those: Hiragana_Others Hiragana_Practice_ Katakana_Practice_ katakana_combination I also have some Kanji writing practice sheets but they don’t have any descriptions about what each are because these sheets go with the Genki book I used for the class. If you want those as well, request it and I will post it.

First Week of Japanese Class August 28, 2010

Posted by coolmikeol in Japan.
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Classes have started for me again. This fall 2010 semester is my third year in college, though it doesn’t feel like it to me. Sometimes I still feel like I’m in high school sometimes, probably due to my looks. Anyways, this post also marks the first of a new category of posts for Topic “Otaku” I call “My Journal”. Obviously by its name, it will be where I blog about my personal life, though usually Japan topic related.

This semester I decided to take a first semester Japanese class for much-needed units and also because I want to learn some of the language too. Being an avid anime fan, it’s only natural to be interested in learning Japanese, but that’s not my only reason why. By being a college student, I’m basically studying what I will be doing for my future. That future for me is undetermined because of a couple of reasons, but the main reason why is quite simple, yet a bit pathetic in my own opinion; It’s because I don’t really know what I want to do in my future. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it, quite the contrary, I’ve thought about it over and over, about what I’m good at (science, particularly biology), what good career choices there are that are within my limits (going for health education major), and what I like to do as a hobby (Japan related stuff, photography, blogging). To make it worse is this worldwide economic crisis that’s making finding part-time jobs hard to find, so I’m strapped for cash, limiting my effort to finding my future. Even in all these uncertainties, I did make one decision to my future, which is something I did on a whim, sort of like a risk, taking Japanese.

While choosing my classes I wasn’t sure if I should take Japanese or not. I usually try to find classes that I need to take for my major or GE (general education) classes. The reason why I’m taking Japanese is to see if I am truly dedicated in my passion for Japan and its unique culture. A post from my favorite blogger gave me the push to go for it.

“…Me being in Japan with my current way of life would never have happened if I didn’t follow my passion which I discovered when I was a wee lad.

Even though I was good at it, I knew I didn’t want to make shoes. I then discovered Japanese culture through anime, manga, games and idols. I didn’t know what line of work I wanted to do (no internets back them) but knew for sure that I wanted to live and work in Japan. I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen but I just started with something that I knew was going to help – learn Japanese.

If you end up not following your passion just because of what others think then you have effectively agreed to live the life of others – this is *your* life – your short life, your arms, your legs, your will. Do what you can – do it now. Never give in to those who fear you or your hobbies because you will end up just like them – living the lives of others.”

— Danny Choo

Because of his inspirational words to go for what I want to do, I’m doing something that I never imagined I would be doing. Back in high school, I had to take a couple of years of a foreign language class, the language was Spanish. The horror of trying to enjoy the language was not there for me. I told myself that I wasn’t going to try taking a language class in school again. At that time, I was not into Japanese culture at all, I was just a normal person. There was Japanese classes in my high school, but I wanted to go for a “default” language. If I was back in high school with my mindset today, I would have picked Japanese, no doubt about it.

It’s been about a week since I’ve started my Japanese class, and so far it’s been quite fun. I’m already trying to remember Hiragana and surprisingly I am, about 30 so far in five days worth of classes. I had a test yesterday and I’m pretty sure I got at least an 80%. The only problem I had was with two Hiragana that I kept on switching the romaji for in my mind. Otherwise I know I got a 100%. On Thursday, sensei wrote 13 Japanese words on the board that I smiled at, because they were words you hear in an anime all the time. I would have taken a picture of the white board, but it was the one day I didn’t have my camera with me. Here is my notes from that day:

I know you know some of these words. The only one I didn't know was gochisousama, which is said after a meal has been eaten.

Well that’s it for now. I will make more posts about my progress in my Japanese class as time goes on.